Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – Movie Review
DreamWorks Animation is no stranger to producing sequels to its most successful films, for Shrek evolved into one of the highest-grossing film sagas of all-time with five movies released in total (including the 2011 spin-off, Puss in Boots). More recently, the production company released a sequel to Kung Fu Panda last summer, and both films have grossed over $600 million worldwide and received Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film. Also, a sequel to the highly successful 2010 film How to Train Your Dragon is in production that is set to release in 2014. Last but not least, the Madagascar franchise is the latest of DreamWorks’ multiple series to have a sequel released, for their newest film is the third installment in the respective franchise: Europe’s Most Wanted. Is DreamWorks’ latest worthy of commercial and critical recognition, or have the wayward New York zoo animals outstayed their welcome onscreen?
Some time after the penguins (voiced by filmmakers at DreamWorks, including co-director Tom McGrath) and the monkeys flew to Monte Carlo in a crude plane, Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still longing to return to their beloved Central Park Zoo back in New York City. The two then plan to travel toMonte Carlowith King Julien (Sacha Boren Cohen) and his right-hand lemurs Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) in order to fly back toNew York. Upon arrival at a casino, their secret plan to nab the penguins and monkeys fails and the local police learn of their presence. Soon afterward, the obsessive and eccentric leader of animal control, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand) picks up the animals’ trail and hunts them throughoutEurope, leading the animals to becoming fugitives. In a ditch effort to escape DuBois and other European police forces, the wayward troupe find a train full of washed-up circus animals and claim that they are also circus performers. Although the authoritative and cynical Russian tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston) is initially objective to their acceptance, circus mates Stefano the Sea Lion (Martin Short) and Gia the Jaguar (Jessica Chastain) are eager to have new blood in their aging act. After learning of the circus’ goal of seizing an American tour, Alex and the others then conspire to use the circus to return to New York…
Going into this film, I did not expect much from this third entry into the franchise. Madagascar is one of my favorite animated films, which soon led to me being disappointed by the sequel, Escape 2 Africa. With that in mind, I was apprehensive when the first trailer for this film was released, making me wonder if DreamWorks would let me down once again. Ultimately, I was disappointed by Europe’s Most Wanted, but I’m happy to report that this is an improvement over the second film, if only slightly so. Surprisingly though, what gave me mixed feelings about this film is not the comedy; rather, there are some glaring story-related issues that I had with DreamWorks’ latest. Now, most cartoons are ridiculous and are rather unrealistic, but most of the time this is compensated by the fact that generally these types of cartoons have a well-realized world in which these crazy things can happen, or otherwise they are just so dang fun that turning off one’s brain is necessary. Rango is a good recent example of this, because some of its elements are rather unbelievable, but its narrative structure and humor are so brilliantly executed that I just didn’t care. Madagascar 3, on the other hand, failed to hook me in since the writers did neither of those things, leading to a film that is very inconsistent in realism when compared to the first two films. I know, those movies were ridiculous as well, but at least the stories were structured in a manner in which we could understand and believe in the situations Alex and crew were facing. The first film was especially thought-provoking in how it presented the question, “could zoo animals really escape and find their way to the wild?” The story of this film just felt tacked-on and rushed since the ridiculousness is a little bit too hard to fathom for older audiences, along with some other things that tie into that.
For instance, the villain is one of the most insane characters I’ve yet seen in a DreamWorks film. We never learn of the reasoning behind DuBois’ obsession with collecting the heads of various animals, and throughout the film she is over-the-top and had some of the most ridiculous villainous tendencies I’ve ever seen. On the flip side, some of her scenes are hilarious, but even still she can be an annoying villain and is not a well-written character. Lastly, this film serves as the one in which the gang finally ventures to New York, and although I won’t go into details about what actually happens, the story then veers into a thematic lesson about the consequences of lying. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just that the execution of this is so generic that I sat in my seat at the theater and thought, “hmm, I wonder how many times I’ve already seen that in family films…” This also makes Europe’s Most Wanted predictable at times, and as a whole the story of this film feels rushed, over-the-top ridiculous and disappointing. Even so, what’s probably most important when it comes to this film is its entertainment value, which of course this film has plenty of it. The humor has improved from the previous film of course, not just in general but how the script can appeal to both kids and adults. I was laughing, my mom was laughing, my dad was laughing… well, you get the picture. Alternatively, a car chase in the beginning is both funny and exciting, and although you have to suspend most of your belief while watching them, the circus sequences are also entertaining (I’ll go into more detail later). This leads into one last thing: the characters. One of the greatest strengths of this franchise has always been its great characters, and although DuBois is nonetheless over-the-top, the new additions to the cast are now among my favorites. Vitaly’s backstory is pretty interesting, and although we never really get to know Stefano or Gia that well, they are still charming new characters. Stefano stood out to me the most out of all the newcomers, probably just because of his innocence and happiness that brightens the mood even more on screen. And honestly, who can’t laugh at King Julien falling in love with an enormous bear? Yes, the storyline may have been scaled down from the previous two (even though those two weren’t exactly deep in terms of storytelling either), but at least Madagascar 3 remains as a rather entertaining animated film with some great new characters to boot.
On top of a great cast of characters is a troop of fantastic voice actors to give them personality. Of course, we already associate Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith with their roles, and they of course do quite well in this one. We see more of Alex than in previous films, which made me wish Marty, Gloria and Melman more central to the film, but all four voice actors have their great comedic moments and deliver the proper performances for their characters. The same can also be said about King Julien since he overshadows both Mort and Maurice in this film (two characters from the original movie that I thought were hilarious), but at least Sacha Boren Cohen provides for some of the funniest moments in Europe’s Most Wanted in compensation for stealing away screentime that could have been used by Cedric the Entertainer and Andy Richter’s characters. And can we forget about the voice actors for the penguins? Of course not, because they still remain as the scene stealers of the Madagascar franchise, and I don’t think their comedic timing will ever get lost on me. You’ve got to hand it to those folks at DreamWorks; they sure know how to make people laugh. As for the newcomers, my favorite new character may be Stefano, but I think that the best voice performer is the one who gives a personality to Vitaly, Bryan Cranston (seriously, how many movies has this guy been in this year?). From his performance, we can completely tell that he is a washed-up circus tiger that suffered from being overambitious in his act, and he brings a sense of showmanship to his character (that probably doesn’t make sense on paper, but if you see the film you will understand). As I said, though, Stefano is my favorite character, which is partly because Martin Short is great in his role (have you heard his accent?). It should also be noted that Frances McDormand is a perfect match for Captain DuBois; after all, an over-the-top French villain requires ridiculousness and a crazy accent, and she pulls these off flawlessly. The character herself may not be all that great, but at least the voice performance makes up for this. I guess the only voice performance I was disappointed with was Jessica Chastain as Gia; don’t get me wrong, she’s good, I think I just expected more from an Oscar-nominated actress.
I can agree with what most people have said about Madagascar’s animation; although it is more stylistic than technical, it’s not all that great coupled with some other CGI films that were released at least seven years ago. Escape 2 Africa was a huge improvement in terms of technicality, and now I’m pleased to report that Europe’s Most Wanted is the best-looking film of the trilogy. It certainly doesn’t achieve the technical beauty of How to Train Your Dragon or the Kung Fu Panda films, but nonetheless, Madagascar 3 is a very colorful and well-animated film. This is the first of the Madagascar films to be released in 3D, and although I was only able to make it to a 2D showing, from what I could see this film would be a cool experience in 3D. Generally, animated films are just better suited for digital 3D, and there is a circus sequence towards the middle of the second half that is a perfect example of how it can work to a filmmakers’ advantage. With its many colors and clever imagery, it’s a feast for the eyes even when viewed in traditional cinemas. Other than that, Hans Zimmer’s (the composer of The Lion King and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy) musical score is great as always, for he mixes in the original Madagascar theme with some charming new pieces also inspired by typical music from various European countries. The result is a musical score that is both majestic and bright, mixing in well with the film’s ridiculousness.
Although Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is indeed a better film than the previous installment, I don’t agree with what most people have been saying about this film being the best film in the trilogy. The over-the-top ridiculousness and excessive lack of realism took me out of the story, the villain could have used more polish, and I also wish that the story wasn’t rushed. That’s not to say that the story isn’t good, just not quite what I expected from an animation studio that is increasingly getting better at storytelling. Even so, Madagascar 3 is a better film than the previous one, for it retains its hilarity (especially between kids and adults), excellent voice cast and bright visuals. Just don’t expect to see anything groundbreaking from DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, a film about an animal-studded circus that tries too hard to be an ambitious circus act.